It’s a sad world. I read in the paper yesterday that the Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon turned up to the Iranian Holocaust denial “conference” organised by President Ahmadinejad.
I wonder if the Grand Dragon is aware of the history of Iran? Iran’s official religion is Shi’a Islam. As a result of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader of the new Islamic Republic of Iran. Since this time, Iran has tried to extend the influence of its particular brand of revolutionary Islam. President Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005. He sees himself as continuing this tradition, and after his election, he reportedly stated, “Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen and the Islamic revolution of 1384 [the Iranian year at that time] will, if God wills, cut off the roots of injustice in the world.” He also reportedly said that “the wave of the Islamic revolution” would soon “reach the entire world.” He also called for Israel to be “wiped out” or “wiped off the map”. Iran has funded organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, a militant Shi’ite paramilitary organisation, whose kidnap of two Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory sparked off the disasterous military incursion by the IDF into Lebanon.
Although obviously Ahmadinejad and Duke share a bond because of their anti-Semitism, I never thought to see them in the same room at the same time. Shared hatred produces strange bedfellows. I doubt that the Grand Dragon really wants the Islamic revolution to come to the land of the Ku Klux Klan. Perhaps he should think about that…
Unfortunately, sentiments such as this are not confined to Iranian presidents and Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragons. I saw a report the other day about an Australian website called Mission Islam, which has some extremely anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in its section entitled “New World Order“. I really hate nonsense like this with a passion.
As I have argued in a previous post, these kind of anti-Semitic notions are not just racist stereotypes. Racist stereotypes are bad enough, but these are worse. They are falsehoods which have been used in the past to justify genocide on a massive scale. And now, to add insult to injury, people such as Ahmadinejad seek to deny that the genocide occurred.
What is the agenda behind this? Ahmadinejad seeks to prove that the Holocaust did not occur, because he believes that the corollary is that Israel was not entitled to the grant of territory it received in 1947 after the war. More subtly, he seeks to use regional hatred of Israel to strengthen Iran’s prestige and religious influence in Arab countries. If Iran can “wipe Israel off the map”, or encourage other countries to turn their backs on Israel, its preeminence and power in the region will be assured.
Many Islamist terrorist groups (both Sunni and Shi’ite) say that they have brought terrorism to the West because they are dissatisfied by the ongoing occupation of Palestine by Israel. These groups hope that the average person just wants the threat of terrorism to go away and that the average person doesn’t care or know about the complicated history behind the occupation (also dealt with in a previous post). Israel is worried that the terrorist groups are succeeding, if this recent opinion piece from from Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is anything to go by.
It is all very depressing. If Australians are tempted to think that Israel should be abolished, they should think how Australian settlers and immigrants would feel if all the indigenous people in Australia turned around and said, “We want you to all go back to where you came from. This is our land. You are occupying it against our will, and colonialists stole it from us 200 years ago.” What would the average Australian say? “Hey, I’ve got a connection to this land! I was born here, I grew up here. This is my country too. I don’t deserve to be punished because of the way in which this land was acquired.” I would also hope that the average Australian would be willing to share the land with Aboriginal people (although every time a native title case which is positive to indigenous people is handed down, my hopes seem to be dashed again).
The situation with Palestinians and Israelis is analogous, except that the Jews have had a continuing spiritual connection with the land in question since the Romans expelled them from the area in 135 CE. Obviously, what needs to be acheived is some kind of compromise in which the competing claims to the land are recognised (easier said than done, I know, but one can always hope).
For those who support the Palestinian cause and think that Ahmedinejad’s criticisms of the Holocaust are valid: how would they feel if Israel held a conference to deny the existence of the Nakba (‘cataclysm’), otherwise known as the expulsion of the Palestinians from Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israel War? I’m sure they would feel outraged. Of course, there are arguments as to the extent of the Nakba and as to the reasons why Palestinians fled, but as far as I am aware, Israel does not deny that it occurred or that it is an invention. And nor should it.
For those who wish to preemptively strike at Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas or the like, please keep in mind that this would probably result in the deaths of many innocent people. It may be trite to say it, but empathy is what prevents us from becoming inhuman. If the Nazis had had empathy for fellow innocent human beings, the Holocaust would never have happened. I think the Holocaust has produced a hardness in the hearts of some Jewish people: “No one helped the Jews in World War II, so why should we accomodate anyone else? We’ve got to look after ourselves and strike back before others do so.” I gather that those Jews who went meekly to the gas chambers are sometimes derisively called “sabon” (soap) in Israel, and some Jews believe that they should never be meek again. Nevertheless, I think it is very important to retain compassion and humanity. Otherwise one risks perpetrating the same crimes against another people as were perpetrated against one’s own people.
Among all this depressing commentary, there are a few rays of hope. Irfan Yusuf, an Australian Muslim lawyer, wrote an excellent commentary last year criticising Ahmedinejad’s rampant anti-Semitism, and drawing an interesting contrast between the attitudes of Ahmedinejad and Saladdin. A French Muslim commentator, Tariq Ramadan, has strongly criticised the tendency towards anti-Semitism in some modern Muslim thought:
“To my regret, anti-Semitic utterances have been heard not only from frustrated and confused young Muslims, but also from certain Muslim intellectuals and imams,” he says, “who in every crisis or political backsliding see the hand of the ‘Jewish lobby.’ There is nothing in Islam that gives legitimization to Judeophobia, xenophobia and the rejection of any human being because of his religion or the group to which he belongs. Anti-Semitism has no justification in Islam, the message of which demands respect for the Jewish religion and spirit, which are considered a noble expression of the People of the Book.”
Even when he identifies urges that have their source in economic distress and social frustration, or the desire to protest against Israel’s oppressive policy, among people who express themselves in an anti-Semitic way and are involved in anti-Semitic acts, Ramadan refuses to demonstrate understanding or forgiveness toward them. He says: “The social and political forces in the Muslim communities must act to educate toward the delegitimization of elements of anti-Semitism. Leaders and imams have the responsibility to disseminate an unequivocal message about the profound connections between Islam and Judaism and Islam’s recognition of Moses and the Torah.”
“Despite what is happening today in Israel and Palestine, despite [then Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s policy, despite the feelings of anger and frustration – those responsible for all the Muslim political and social organizations must open a clear dialogue that distinguishes between criticism of Israel’s policy, and anti-Semitic and Judeophobic statements and actions. This is lacking today and this is a great responsibility.”
I could not have said it better myself. Perhaps there is some hope after all. Let’s all stand up against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. And let’s hope for more examples of compassion, empathy and understanding from all.